Yoga Means Union ― The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Yoga Means Union ― Embrace All Eight Limbs of Yoga

The practice of Yoga Asana is good for our health.  But, this is only one aspect of Yoga.  Yoga Asana is only one of the eight limbs of Yoga.

The physical postures of Yoga Asana are responsible for making Yoga a popular household term.  This aspect of practice can be either gentle or athletic.  So, this spiritual practice paved the way for the more cerebral practices of meditation.

Yoga Means Union

The term Yoga refers to the development of the union between mind, body, and spirit.  In Western culture, the focus is on the physical aspect.  So, the popularity of Yoga Asana is also responsible for misconstruing Yoga as a form of physical exercise.  To be sure, there are health benefits for this aspect of Yoga.  But, the health aspects are meant to enhance the other seven branches of Yoga.

Yoga means union, not exercise. Today people use the term Yoga interchangeably with other forms of physical exercise. Yoga has become something you add to your exercise routine along with resistance or cardio training.  It is something much more diverse and different from exercise.

There is nothing wrong with exercise. We need to exercise to maintain a healthy body. But, taking one aspect of a spiritual practice and turning it into a form of gymnastics misses the point. Rather than achieving union, you are creating more illusion by creating a divide between the observer and instrument of observation. So, it’s important to remember, actual intent of Yoga differs from the form of exercise people associate with physical poses. — Guru Tua

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

The Hindu Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the historical authority on Yoga.  Patanjali was born in Kodar.  This is a village of the Vajirganj area at Gonda district Uttar Pradesh about 5,000 years ago. Patanjali also called Gonardiya or Gonikaputra.  He was the author or at least one of the authors of two great Hindu classics.  The first, his famous Yoga Sutras.  The second the Mahabhashya (Great Commentary), which is both a defense of the grammarian Panini against his chief critic and detractor Katyayana.  It refutes Panini’s aphorisms.

He was able to synthesize many practices into one comprehensive system of only 196 verses. We believe Sutras come from much earlier oral traditions.

The eight limbs of yoga represent a diverse system of human development.  Here are the main terms with definitions to help you understand this system:

    • yama = external discipline
    • niyama = internal discipline
    • âsana = posture
    • prâñâyâma = breath regulation
    • pratyâhâra = withdrawal of the senses
    • dhârañâ = concentration
    • dhyana = meditative absorption
    • samâdhayaï = oneness, integration

The following order is consistent with their presentation in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  However, you may want to read number eight entitled Samādhi first. It will help you put things in a proper perspective.

Samādhi is the unifying field of consciousness.  This personifies why Yoga means union.  Of the eight limbs of Yoga Samādhi is the heart.  You reach this state of consciousness through Japa Meditation, or what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi calls Transcendental Meditation.

As you read this article, one thing should become obvious.  This is not a spiritual practice for the beginner. But, if you are a beginner it gives you an idea about the possibilities.  This is just one aspect of consciousness.  Learn more about the complete Rainbow of Consciousness that is available.

1. Yama:

Yama refers to external behavior.  These are things you should not do.

  • Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
  • Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood.
  • Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
  • Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): marital fidelity or preoccupation with instinctual passions
  • Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness.

2. Niyama:

Niyama refers to internal or personal ethical guidelines. These are things one should do. The five internal disciplines are;

  • Self-Purification (Shaucha)
  • Contentment (Santosha)
  • Self-Discipline (Tapas)
  • Self-Study (Svadhyaya)
  • Self-Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana)

Bodily purification, equates to eating healthy, exercising, and taking care of your wellbeing in general. It is being content and thankful for what you have. Self-Discipline equates to living with the intention, being conscious “living in the now.”

Self-study is exploring one’s personal divinity. This includes self-observation, emotional reflection, and eliminating boundaries of belief. And, last, Self-Surrender pursuing the ideal of increasing awareness and consciousness. This is engaging in spiritual exploration.

So, together, Yama and Niyama make up the philosophical and intellectual components of the Yoga Sutras.  It also contains many of the preparatory functions that enable one to apply the Sutras.

3. Asana:

This is the term most people associate with the practice of physical yoga postures. However, it should be noted that in the time of Patanjali the word asana is the term for ‘presence.’ This was a misunderstanding of the term ‘seat’.  The seat here referring not to physically sitting, but being aware or present.

The creation of modern yoga postures didn’t occur until much later.  So, the practice of yoga Asana is is the practice of being present. This more closely relates to the practices of seated and moving forms of mindfulness meditation.  It’s also more akin to the practice of Kundalini Yoga.  Here one activates a type of energy, Chi or Ki enabling us to feel “presence” flowing up the through us.

4. Pranayama:

This practice refers to a variety of breathing exercises.  It includes practices to align, attune, and in some cases engage in semi-hypnotic altered states of consciousness.  Altering, expanding, and reaching higher states is one of the main purposes of practicing Yoga Sutras.  Most people are familiar with altering waking consciousness via chemical stimuli like alcohol.  Here one is taught to alter awareness using the breath.

5. Pratyahara:

The literal translation of this is “withdrawal of the senses”.  But in practice, it’s much more than that.  It involves the progressive use of Mantra and Sutra. Withdrawing from the senses is the first part.

This is the use of the Mantra to reach the silence of the transcendent state.  Then, while in this silent state, one introduces the proper Sutra, properly.   This returns an experiential result. This practice is known as Siddhis.

Because of the nature of the results sought Patanjali himself refers to these as extraordinary powers. There are many schools of thought, as there are interpretations of these formulas.  Perhaps it’s the controversy that kindles so much interest.  In any case, there is no doubt about the historical and spiritual significance of this aspect of Patanjali’s work.

6. Dharana:

Engaging the mind’s analytical powers. This is learning to reason with the least undue influence from external or internal boundaries.  In short, using logical tools to counter the effects of cultural programming. Hence, this is an ideal of the freethinker and involves conscious mental techniques for expanding awareness and the ability to observe and apply common sense and reason.  So, those who prefer the analytical approach find this one appealing.

7. Dhyana:

This brings the concepts of Dharana, Pratyahara, and Samādhi together.  It’s the fusion of the analytical mind and our transcendent awareness. It melds 4th state with the waking state.  This is a separate state of consciousness known as Witnessing.

One achieves this state through regular Japa or TM meditation. The mind is naturally drawn to the state of bliss. So, it is a natural progression to bring this quality into the waking state of ordinary reality. The resulting experience is what is often referred to as “witnessing.”

In this state of consciousness, there is an expansion of the mind’s ability to perceive two realities simultaneously. There is a conscious awareness separate from the corporeal body while at the same time being fully “present” in mind and body.

8. Samadhi:

This is the first building block of consciousness exploration.  It’s the 4th state of consciousness beyond the default settings of waking, sleeping, and dreaming. However, with some exceptions, it remains hidden to the untrained mind.  Hence, we learn to reach this state through specific meditation techniques.  Japa meditation is the generic form of Hindu practice.  It is also commercially known as Transcendental Meditation.

So, although this eight leg is last, it is the foundation for all the other Sutras of Patanjali Above all, it’s the main tool for integrating our mind, body, and soul.  As a result, It becomes the platform for consciousness development.

In Conclusion

If you think of Yoga only as a form of exercise, you are missing the point.  Remember, Yoga means union.  Expand your practice include all the elements of Yoga.  This will transform exercise into spiritual practice.

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Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
Transcendental Meditation, Wikipedia

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